Dallas, Texas Police Shooting of Mentally Ill Man Reveals a Nationwide Epidemic

The police shooting of a mentally ill Dallas man sent shockwaves across the country this week after a neighbor’s home surveillance system showed the man had been standing still when shot, contrary to what the offending officer stated. The Dallas Police Department reports that the officer, Cardan Spencer, and his partner were dispatched after the victim’s mother called police for help in dealing with her son, who suffers from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. According to the arrest affidavit, Spencer shot Bennett after he walked toward him and his partner with a “knife raised in an aggressive manner”. However, the neighbor’s surveillance video, which has spread widely over the internet, proves the victim had not moved towards the officers at all when Spencer shot him down.
According to data compiled by Bloomberg News, 64 mentally-ill citizens died after being shot with a gun or electroshock device by law enforcement in 2012, about three times as many deaths as 2009. No officers in the 64 incidents were found criminally liable, leading many to question police accountability. Just last year, a Justice Department investigation based solely on violent police encounters with Portland, Oregon’s mentally ill found nine cases with a “pattern or practice of unreasonable force”, with gaps in mental health care increasing the frequency of potentially fatal police encounters.
“It is a shame that a bullet is what our mental health safety net has become,” said Louis Josephson, CEO of Riverbend Community Mental Health in New Hampshire. Since the mid-1950’s, the number of beds in state hospitals has decreased by 92%, with only 42,385 beds available in 2011. In addition, the average duration of acute-care psychiatric hospital stays is now a mere 7.8 days, 60% shorter than stays in 1993 and drastically shorter than the recommended two weeks mentally ill patients need for medications to stabilize.
The fatal factor in this formula is that increasingly inadequate public mental health care has placed law enforcement on the front lines of a social crisis few officers are adequately trained to handle. A 2011 survey of 2,400 police chiefs and sheriffs found that 82% affirmed that calls to deal with the mentally had increased substantially over their careers. Even with this dramatic uptick, only 10% of the nation’s police departments offer Crisis Intervention Teams or teach techniques to de-escalate a mentally ill individual in the midst of a crisis.
One only has to be a frequent reader of local news to see that police interactions with the mentally ill are faring no better in Houston. Last September, a Houston police officer shot an amputee in a wheelchair in the head after the victim approached him armed with nothing but a felt pen. Stories such as these highlight the importance of both improving mental health care in the U.S. and adequately training our law enforcement to deal with these increasingly common, and increasingly violent, confrontations.

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Gilbert Garcia has been Passionately Pursuing Justice for over 30 years and founded The Gilbert G. Garcia Law Firm in 2008. The Gilbert G. Garcia Law Firm is a boutique law firm, specializing in Criminal Defense. Gilbert represents adults and juveniles accused of a crime and who have with a felony, misdemeanor or record cleaning case. Conveniently located on the courthouse square to serve Montgomery and Walker Counties. Gilbert became Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in 1989. The Gilbert G. Garcia Law Firm is located at 220 N. Thompson St., Suite 202, Conroe, TX 77301.  www.ggglawfirm.com